MTV did a hardcore push of launching Teen Wolf on the heels of the MTV Movie Awards Sunday night following two years of chatter. I’m of the generation that adored the Teen Wolf movie precisely because it was so sweet and cheesy. It became a breakout hit as Michael J. Fox’s follow-on film to Back to the Future, even though it was shot first. So here we are a whopping 26 years later (when most of this cast weren’t even born) and MTV has decided to capitalize on the supernatural teen trend that got a huge boost from the Twilight films, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood. While I was skeptical about an adaptation of a movie I loved (and saw in theaters), I came away digging the reboot.
Thematically similar to the original material in that it’s very, very sweet-natured, the series turns the premise of the film on its ear with the main character (keeping the same name, Scott) coming into wolfdom via a bite vs. heredity. When we begin with Scott (Tyler Posey), he’s awkward and kind and a little bit nervous about starting the school year the next morning and making the lacrosse team. His buddy, Stiles (a really very good new actor, Dylan O’Brien, who I was sure was a Lawrence brother) fetches him late at night to head to the woods where his dad, the sheriff, is looking for the other half of a murder victim.
Stiles gets busted and Scott gets left behind. In short order, he dodges a stampede of deer, loses his asthma inhaler, finds the other half of a murdered girl, and gets jumped and bitten by something very big and furry before he hauls ass out of the woods and back onto the highway. The next day, sounds are sharper, reflexes are quicker … you get the picture. This is also the day that a pretty new student, Allison (Crystal Reed) arrives, and Scott’s new abilities allow him to overhear that she’s nervous and puts her at ease, and later, that she’s being courted hard by the in crowd, including the lacrosse captain’s girlfriend.
Adding to the notion that Scott’s a good guy, he works at an animal clinic. He realizes something’s off when his wound has already healed and the kitties in the cat room flip out as he enters. That’s soon forgotten when Allison shows up after hours with a dog who she clipped with her car. He settles the dog down telepathically and then bandages the pooch up while making her feel at ease that she “girly girled” her panic. He asks her out, she says yes. The next day, he dazzles on the lacrosse field and makes the starting team, and that’s enough to freak Stiles right out, sending him on a Google rampage for lycanthropy sources. He throws all the info he can find at Scott. Scott rages at him and then is horrified by his own temper.
Adding to Stiles’ agitation is the return of Derek, a former student who Scott and Stiles run into out in the woods when Scott goes to look for his inhaler. Stiles reminds Scott that Derek’s whole family died in a fire. Later at a party, Scott spies Derek out in the dark with glowing eyes and climbing the rooftops and starts to believe Stiles’ theory. The party falls on the full moon, and Scott starts to get friskier than he means to with Allison. He excuses himself and races to the car as he starts to transform, leaving a dumbfounded and unhappy Allison behind.
Stiles shows up at Scott’s house while he’s wolfing out and tells him Allison got a ride home with Derek. Scott tells him he thinks Derek’s another wolf, so Stiles races to Allison’s house and makes quite the ass of himself in front of her mother before finding out Allison is indeed home safe and sound. Scott doesn’t wait to hear that and instead tears out to the woods where he finds Allison’s jacket in a tree and Derek espousing that the wolf bite is a gift. Scott says he doesn’t want it; Derek says he will. Just as they hash that out, they’re set upon by hunters and Scott catches a crossbow in the forearm that pins him to a tree. Derek takes out two of the three hunters and frees Scott, who bolts to the road where Stiles, ever the BFF, picks him up.
The next day at school, Scott apologizes to Allison for the ditch and leaves it that she’ll have to trust he had a very good reason. In a “saw that coming” moment (because he’s played by J.R. Bourne and it’s that kind of show), Allison’s dad arrives and he’s the werewolf hunter Scott escaped from. Scott waves goodbye as that sinks in and her dad does a very slight recognition as Allison smiles in the car behind him.
I really enjoyed the vibe of the show – not terribly dark, shades of humor, and a scoche of the cheese, and since I DVR’d it, I could skip the spoily season-long teasers and take the pilot on its own merits. Highlander director Russell Mulcahy doesn’t do TV very much, so it was cool to have him helm this (IMDb says he directed six episodes this season); the animal effects are CG, but Posey does do the prosthetic teeth and contact lenses (we didn’t get a full wolfing yet). I remember Posey as a child actor on Doc years ago so it was neat to see him grown.
In a funny bit of casting, the menacing lacrosse captain, Jackson, who thinks Scott is tapping some sort of performance enhancer, is played by Colton Haynes, who was a werewolf on last summer’s The Gates. Derek is played by Tyler Hoechlin, an alum of 7th Heaven, so some of the demo set may recognize him. For the grownups, we have Bourne and Linden Ashby (who’s real-life wife, Susan Walters, is playing the mother of a werewolf over on The Vampire Diaries), as Stiles’ dad.
The show filmed in Atlanta, and captured a lot of the same look as TVD, even though there was a tossed-off line at the beginning that it’s set in California, which isn’t supposed to have a wolf population. An unknown for me was producer/writer Jeff Davis – I haven’t watched Criminal Minds, but understand it to have quite the cruel streak. I hope that doesn’t cross over here. Another producer, Rene Echevarria, had a hand in The 4400 and Dark Angel, two shows I adored, so I trust his judgment here.
I’m curious about the tagline of “Love. Be Afraid,” because we learn right out the gate that Scott has no game whatsoever with the ladies, so it’s interesting if they’re going to arc the whole season to be a werewolf vs. huntress Romeo and Juliet thing. I don’t get a greatest love ever vibe off of Scott and Allison yet – my first impression is that they almost look like they could be siblings, and it’s not that kind of show. We’ll see where they go.
If you missed the pilot, you can catch it online at MTV.com.
Photo Courtesy of MGM